There aren’t too many sporting leaders who would return home from a semi-final defeat to find a Tube station (temporarily) named in their honour. It just goes to emphasise the great job that Gareth Southgate has done as England manager at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
When it was first announced that Southgate would be the man to lead England at the World Cup, there were plenty of fans, pundits and journalists who went in on him, ready to declare him a failure before he’d even started.
And sure, we didn’t win the thing, but he achieved something no other England manager had in nearly thirty years. More than that, though, he united the country and reinstalled a sense of pride in the national football team. We will remember the 2018 World Cup for a long time, that’s for sure.
So, just how did he manage it?
Phil Keoghan, CEO of Ricoh UK & Ireland, summed it up brilliantly in a blog for Business Leader: “Great leaders have a sense of purpose and vision. They guide, not manage, and those that wholly succeed have learnt through their mistakes, as well as sharpening their skills.”
Not only did Southgate have a vision, he managed to instil a sense of shared purpose which reflected the expectations of not just himself and his employer, the Football Association, but also fans and the media.
He then set about creating an environment and culture in which players could thrive, free from the fear of failure. Past England managers have thought it best to protect players from the media, so they didn’t become distracted. Southgate, however, understood the importance of having the backing of the media and encouraged his players to engage with journalists at every opportunity, including darts matches prior to news conferences.
On the surface, this might not sound like much, but it gave the players a sense of freedom and trust to express themselves, which translated into their work out on the pitch.
Prior to the start of the tournament, defender Danny Rose revealed that he had suffered from depression in the past. It’s unheard of for a footballer to speak as openly as he did. I don’t think he would have opened up in the same way if the England manager was anybody but Southgate.
Southgate wore his heart on his sleeve, while demonstrating emotional intelligence. He would cheer every goal England scored like he had put the ball in the net himself. But, even in his team’s moment of triumph – beating Columbia on penalties in the last 16 knockout match – he was quick to console Mateus Uribe, who missed the crucial penalty. Southgate knew only too well what that felt like.
Ultimately, Southgate didn’t do anything revolutionary, but he still managed to quietly and confident transform the England team into something we could all be proud of. It just goes to show the power of creating a culture where people are allowed to be their true selves. But it has to start with the leader showing their true self first.